About Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

Pilgrim, writer, speaker, retreat director, social media minister, church secretary - it's hard to believe I was once a corporate executive, but I was. Married to an incredible man, have a spectacular stepdaughter, dog and cat.

What will we choose today?

Cemetery Angel text watermark.jpg

Tenderness or severity? What will we choose?

What will we choose today? Tenderness? Severity? We seem to believe that severity is the go to for keeping law and order, but I’m not sure it is all that simple. Many of us profess to follow the Prince of Peace. Severity did not seem to be his thing and here we all are, 2000 years later, still worshiping a man who was hung like a shameful thief on a cross. He never resisted, he did not fight back, he did not choose severity – even when it was chosen for him.Knowing that death was coming for him, Jesus responded to violence by saying

“Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”- Matthew 26:52

What will we choose today? Especially we who follow Christ? Will we “show them” who is in charge, whoever them may be… Black people, Muslims, fill in the blank, there are many “thems.” For some, out of madness and rage, out of destruction, “them” are the police. More death does not bring forth life, it brings forth only more pain, sorrow, anger, and ultimately, even more death.

What will we choose today? Will we blame all of “them” and hold ourselves unaccountable when in fact we all have a role in what is happening? Will we clasp our hands in prayer and pray for a new president to “fix” things? Will we keep saying “if there were no blacksgaysmuslimsdemocratssocialistsimmigrants then we would be ok?”

What will we choose today? And what will be on our heart as we take our last breath, whenever that may be? Will we be glad that we spent more time wallowing in despair or spouting anger? Will we be glad that we used all the power given to us by God to keep order? Or will we regret that severity won the day, leaving tenderness in the dust? Discernment is of the highest order, when we consider each moment of our own precious lives, and of the precious lives of others.

What will we choose today? Why wait for death to find out? What will we choose?


Invited guests and stretched hearts


All are welcome – that’s the idea anyway.

Imagine that you are invited to a great banquet, a sumptuous feast, a life changing event that you never imagined that you would attend. Maybe you wanted to attend, maybe you swore you would never go to such a thing, but whatever the case, you find yourself getting ready to enter. As you approach, someone greets you, but you notice they are looking you up and down in a way that makes you deeply uncomfortable. You were told that the host of the vent welcomed all people, yet now you are not so sure.

As you proceed, another person stops you and asks for your credentials. Suddenly you loose your emotional footing – you wonder what’s going on. You have your invitation, and it appears to express that you are welcome at any time, so you’re not sure what might be wrong.

While others stream in through the great doors, you and some others are asked to step to the side while these so-called greeters meet. You see them looking over at your ever growing group, and talking. You may feel Continue reading

Night falls

Night Wiesel

Reading Night has me considering just how night falls around us lately. Should I be embarrassed to admit that I had never read Elie Wiesel’s Night? It felt kind of shocking to me, as I am holocaust-obsessed person, not to mention a big reader. Frankly I’m not sure how I never did, but I never did read the book. Until now. Wiesel’s recent death propelled me down to our local library to find a copy.

When I think about this moral giant’s passing, and the confluence of current events I find myself feeling ill, wondering out loud – how did we get here? Again? Some among you may think I am being reactionary, or simply overreacting. Pardon me, but I will err on the side of caution here, many good Germans, Jews and non-Jews, felt like others were overreacting back then. By time they could do something it was too late, so the cautionary tale approach works just fine for me.

The slim volume is harrowing – there is no getting around that. As Wiesel chronicles elements of his Transylvanian childhood, he creates evocative scenes of daily Jewish life with his words. I’m not going to review the book for you here; many of you read it, and if you have not, I will simply say do not delay – read it now.

Maybe it is my own odd preoccupations with death, Continue reading

Catching up

FranZimSmithHello all! The world has been blog free from me lately, but for a quick spell, I am back. Where has the world’s least disciplined blogger been? What has she done? Does anyone care? If so, here is a recap.

Walking – with a mere 76 days to go until my camino, I have been out walking a lot. Writing vs. walking has walking winning. Alliteration unintended! Last Monday was my final day of vacation, so I got out there and did 7 miles… with my pack on, despite choosing a local bike/hiking path where one would expect to see an actual backpacker. I’m glad I did it.

Vacation – so yes, we went on vacation. We were being prudent so we went for a few short days, not an entire week. Instead of our usual beach trip to Ocean City, NJ, we went to Cape Cod. Our little rental was so lovely, and the journey was one of the most relaxing ever. In the end I am more of an OCNJ person than a Cape Codder, but I did love it and can imagine returning for another short stay. It was a richly peaceful and prayerful time, a period – albeit short – of relaxation and happiness for our family.  I Continue reading

Desperately Seeking Something

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This post – a book review of Desperately Seeking Spirituality by Meredith Gould,  along with an author Q&A was all set to go for Monday. Then Orlando happened. The senseless and tragic massacre at the Pulse nightclub was on everyone’s mind, so I postponed this until today. Now I am doing a little rewrite because no matter what, it seems like many of us are desperately seeking something.

91c84649763ac9c3518749992a8937e1In the face of a tragedy some people gravitate towards faith or religion, others decry it. This grows even more complicated when the killer claims that he acted in the name of God. And it grows even more problematic when many mainstream religions overtly or covertly condemn LGBT people. Yesterday I was struck when I watched NBC anchor Lester Holt interview Pulse shooting survivor Joshua McGill, because at the end of the clip, McGill talks about how he prayed with another club patron, one who was badly wounded. This scenario is one of many reasons that I think that the book I’m here to talk about today really essential.

DSS.489x750Prolific author Meredith Gould has once again written a book for the very present moment with her latest work, Desperately Seeking Spirituality, A Field Guide to Practice. (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 136 pp, $16.95)  Not surprisingly, she shows up with just the right words at just the right time.

The book is compact and easy to read, with each chapter interspersed with boxes that are chock full of helpful information and insights. For both the church-goer with a curious mind, and the church avoider who is inquisitive, and everyone in between, this book offers rewards that are both practical and spiritual. In short, many seek the sacred, whether in a traditional church or elsewhere and the author offers refreshing pathways to grace and renewal.

This review is brief and ends with an editorial review that I wrote prior to publication:

The image of a seeker standing before shelves of books looking bewildered can now be replaced with an image of a seeker happily holding a copy of this book. Meredith Gould has written what will certainly be the go-to volume for many; both those who search for a spiritual practice, and those with a practice, but who wish to go wider and deeper. With her trademark brand of experience-based wisdom infused with humor, the author offers readers smart, practical, and refreshing options as they make their spiritual way.

KERN-.GouldHeadshot.500pxAlso for today, Meredith answered a few questions that I prepared so that those of you who are not that familiar with her would gain some insights. As for those of you who, you will enjoy her trademark wit and perception that never dumbs us down, and always leads us deeper.  With that – here is Meredith Gould!

DSS is a different kind of book for you. Was writing this one significantly different from earlier works?
For people who know me because of church communications, I suppose Desperately Seeking Spirituality might seem like a different type of book. For me it’s a return to an early and persistent call.

I started writing about the spirituality of everyday life during the late 1980s, primarily for magazines. I continued exploring the mystical mundane during eight years of blogging and then in my first four books, even in the one about working from a home office! In The Word Made Fresh: Communicating Church and Faith Today, published in 2008, my focus shifted to church communications. I had my reasons!

After working as a part-time pastoral associate, I realized just how much we needed to recognize communications ministry as a core ministry. I also discovered Twitter in 2008. In 2011, I created the church social media hashtag (#chsocm) and launched a weekly Twitter-based chat, and the rest is history but not necessarily destiny.

A couple of years ago, I felt a familiar tug to write about spiritual life thanks, in part, to working with churches and clergy.

How – if all – did your own spiritual practices change or grow during your writing of this book?
Desperately Seeking Spirituality is about why and when traditional spiritual practices stop working. I’d been hearing stories about discouragement with traditional spiritual practices from other self-identified spiritual seekers. Oddly comforting. To provide a context for readers, I write about my own spiritual journey and gradual transition from enthusiasm to ennui.

By the time I proposed this book, I’d basically stopped doing formal spiritual practices and was exploring what it meant to actively be spiritual. I zeroed in on five core spiritual practices – willingness, curiosity, empathy, generosity, and delight. Writing about these spiritual practices of being meant I had to get honest about my own commitment to practicing them. And so, each chapter drew me deeper into the practice I was writing about, which was challenging and exhausting in ways I did not anticipate.

I also rediscovered the extent to which writing is spiritual practice that invites me to connect with and surrender to a power greater than myself.

Along those lines, what is your favorite or most enriching spiritual practice?
Curiosity has been my go-to practice for years for all the reasons I list in the chapter. Curiosity slows down reactivity; opens new gateways to wisdom and knowledge; generates enthusiasm for inquiry; and substitutes light for heat. Things go much better internally and externally when instead of acting out of outrage my prayer of first resort is, “Dear God, what’s up with that?”

As for traditional spiritual practices, I always experience anchored transcendence when I chant or walk a labyrinth. I suspect this is because these practices give my body something to do that relaxes my mind enough to open a connection to the Holy Spirit..

Do you have a favorite part/chapter of this book?
I confess to you and Almighty God that I probably had too much fun writing endnotes. In addition to typical stuff like citations and resources, I add semi-snarkastic commentary thus providing yet another glimpse into my thought process. Readers tell me they rarely other authors’ endnotes but always read mine.

I also loved creating “Know Thyself” questions for contemplation and discussion, and am planning to develop workshops – probably webinars – based on them. I have two favorite content boxes. First is the one about orthopraxytosis, a toxic condition I’ve identified and named. The second introduces readers to “spiritual bypassing,” a defense mechanism that has been characterized as “avoidance and holy drag.”

What’s next for you? Is there another book already in the making?
I should probably stop declaring that whatever book I’m writing is the last one I’ll ever write. Two days after sending the manuscript for Desperately Seeking Spirituality to Liturgical Press and vowing I’d never write another book, I started making notes about the next one.

I’m currently writing that book and the working title is, Transcending Generations: A Field Guide to Collaboration In Church. I’m focusing on issues shared by people of faith regardless of chronological age, lifecycle development, or generational cohort. I’m keen on helping readers remove false barriers between generations while honoring authentic differences. It’s going to be my last book! Kidding. Maybe.

Gays, guns, and God


Photo credit: Angelo Kavouriadis

I have to first remind myself that this letter was issued in 1986 so the language sounds strange to my ears. “Homosexual persons” seems to carry a ring to it, one that indicates a condition that I would best avoid both for my own behavior, and also for not associating with such persons. Yet the letter from St. John Paul II is very clear in that first sentence of item number ten, so I will repeat it:

“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.”

We are all aware that LGBT people were the “object of violent malice” on Sunday, June 12, 2016. This must be roundly condemned, not simply because it was violent and sinful against all human persons, but because these people were singled out for being LGBT in the first place.

Sunday’s acts of violence and hatred are entangled with some of the most scorching hot buttons in our US cultural millieu – that old trio of “gays, guns, and God.”

Let me break this down into Continue reading

This, not that

Burnout.Quote.TwitterIf you are a regular reader, you know that I am a person of faith, blogging about the intersection of faith, spirituality, and everyday life. You also know that I am a Roman Catholic who also works for the Catholic church both in her day job, and as a freelance writer, and more. While church is alive and vibrant for me and many others, for some church means boring, routine, rigid, rejection and more – even when the call to something greater than oneself exists.

In 1990 I returned to the Church after an 18 year very conscious absence!  When I left church I was DONE and overdone with formal religious practice. To say that my return was reluctant would be understatement. All those years that I was away I frequently felt the pull of church, but I felt the planting of being fine with where I was as a non-belonging member of anything even more strongly. My desire for sacredness and spirituality never left me in those years, but I did not want to be part of any formal practice.

RAp3eT0Many seekers or would be seekers think – I want this, not that – meaning, sacred and spiritual are indeed part of your landscape. Maybe your desire for such things helps to see and understand the world, but there is no context for such things in your life. While I have many arguments about why faith in community is vitally important, I also know that words telling me that would have never sent me back to church. In fact, such words would have had me fleeing at high speeds. Buh-bye! What’s a seeker to do?

DSS.489x750In my day there were few books or resources – maybe zero resources – to help direct anyone not only to spirituality, but to an exploration of spiritual practices. That’s why I was thrilled when Meredith Gould told me about her current writing project, Desperately Seeking Spirituality.(Full disclosure, she’s my dear friend, we are mishpocha. And yes, I offered an editorial review of the book found inside of its cover.)

Next week I will share my review of this book on the blog, along with an interview with Meredith. I hope you will check out my posts, because I really would like to see this book widely read. Not unlike The Nones are Alright by Kaya Oakes, these are important volumes for our times, for the churched, the unchurched, the seekers, searchers, and others. (See my review of that book here.)

Desperately Seeking Spirituality is an important book that I would like to tell you more about, and Meredith is someone I’m pretty sure you will want to get to know.  See you on Monday!